Appeal launched by Kent Messenger after MoJ says names of escaped convicts 'sensitive information'

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A local newspaper group is to appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office over the refusal by the Ministry of Justice to give it the names of 14 convicted prisoners who have escaped from jails in its area.

The MoJ has refused to tell the Kent Messenger the names of the fugitives on the grounds that doing so would be a breach of the Data Protection Act because their names are what it described in a letter as “personal sensitive data”.

The newspaper reported in May that a Freedom of Information request to the MoJ had disclosed that 14 inmates who had escaped from jails in the county in the previous decade were still on the run.

The ministry gave details of the crimes these individuals had committed, and the locations from which they had escaped, but refused to give their names.

The newspaper then asked the MoJ to review its decision to withhold the names, arguing that the fugitives had to be identified in order to help the authorities bring them to justice.

The paper reported this week that the MoJ refused, telling it: “In the original response you were told personal information is exempt under The FoI Act. I have examined whether the conclusion reached in the first response was correct, and I have concluded that it was.

“Your original request for the name, date of birth and address of the individuals you listed was considered under the Data Protection Act to be ‘personal sensitive data’ and would be released only where absolutely necessary to satisfy a risk-assessed lawful purpose and only then with robust safeguards in place.”

Kent Messenger reporter Ed McConnell, who is covering the story and made the original FoI request, said he now planned to appeal against the MoJ decision to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

He said of the MoJ’s reasons for refusing to identify the fugitives: “It represents a growing trend of officials throwing the word ‘data protection’ at you in the hope of getting you off their back.

“It is so ridiculous that it is worth pursuing the matter further. Government departments seem to be raising data protection law even if It doesn’t make any sense to do so.”

An ICO spokesperson said: “The data protection act is not a barrier to disclosing important information in the public interest. An escaping prisoner should not automatically expect the veil of privacy.

“However, as in all cases we would consider the specific circumstances before reaching a decision.”

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